With the Rocky Mountain Turf Cub racing schedule shut down until May of 2017 for its annual winter rest, Lyle Magnuson, the RMTC's leading trainer, is also taking a rest. He and life partner Jacqueline Smith have returned to the northern United States for the winter to rest both themselves and their horses and to prepare for 2017. Also, the holiday provides time for reflection of days past.
As the chute gate opened the saddle bronc reared over backwards, but the young, agile high school rider scrambled to safety. The bronc was reloaded in the chute and Lyle Magnuson climbed aboard and completed a successful ride. He had talked his mother into coming to the rodeo to see him ride, for the first time. Upon completing his ride he then ran up into the stands to see what his mother thought – she had gone home when the horse reared over on her boy, never to return.
Lyle, the top trainer at the RMTC with 26 wins during the season, is a long ways from those bronc riding days in high school. He's now aged 64 and living in Washington.
"I wasn't that good at rodeo and I sure couldn't see me competing against the pros," he remembered with a grin. "My first year out of high school I won five out of seven rodeos round Chinook, Montana. It was about 1973. The next year I tried my hand at bull riding." There was a Canadian champion riding in the area at the time and Lyle paid close attention to him. He would watch this champion as he climbed aboard his bull, set himself and wrap his hand.
The Canadian asked Lyle what he was doing and Lyle said he was watching how it was done.
"He said he didn't mind me watching and you know, when I got on he was there watching me. He he said he could show me three or four things if I wanted, and of course I did. I went on to win the rodeo." But Lyle wasn't that much into rodeo, though he virtually grew up around horses. He did try team roping in later years as a few mangled fingers will attest.
Lyle was born in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan where his father worked for the rail road. The family eventually moved to Havre, Montana about 1951 where his father became a dispatcher for the Burlington Northern Railroad. His Dad moved around Montana, finally becoming a Depot Agent in Harlem, Montana, where Lyle was virtually raised.
Lyle found himself involved with cattle and ranching. "I've been breaking horses since age two. But it was about 1973 when I began hanging around racing. I never did ride race horses, though I could have at age 16, but I still wanted to be a cowboy back then, not a jockey." Lyle was into breaking and training rodeo horses.
It was about then he began working for horse race trainer Don Weaver in Cut Bank, Montana. About 1988 Lyle moved to Long Acres, where he would gallop horses and buy horses he figured would do well on the Bush tracks.
"I'd buy speed horses out of Washington, about five or six of them, for $500 to $1,000." A friend of his in Cut Bank got Lyle into the Yakima race track. He started living there and served as track superintendent and then barn superintendent, as well as working on the starting gate. "I started coming up here (RMTC) in 2005," Lyle stated after a long battle to secure stalls for his horses. It was an equine quarantine in Montana that finally opened the gates.
He's been coming to Lethbridge ever since, often accompanied by life partner Jackie Smith. Lyle and Jackie are often racing together at the RMTC but Jackie also races on the Oregon Bush tracks while Lyle spends his summers in Grande Prairie and his falls in Lethbridge.
Lyle will also go to Kennewick, Washington to break Quarter Horses, often for Buckey Stockwell, a fellow RMTC trainer. The couple will take a vacation however over Christmas and New Year's.
"I started this season with about 50 horses, and now (the final weekend) I have about four. Some have gone home with Jackie, some have been sold or claimed, and Max Gibb, for whom I train a lot of horses, has taken his horses home, and so on."
Lyle points out that the mare She's Italian, a prolific breeder from Gibb's stables, had four winners on B-Cup Day. "I figure I will stay in training all my life. This has been my life ambition and I'll do it until I can't do it anymore. "There's a lot of mental reward in this sport and for the most part I can make a living at it. I've always liked horses and most of the people involved with them."